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Posted January 20, 2019 02:01 pm |

Alvaro Ortiz wins Latin America Amateur, heads to Masters

  • Article Photos
    Alvaro Ortiz, of Mexico, won the Latin America Amateur Championship on Sunday and has earned a spot in this year's Masters Tournament field.
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    Alvaro Ortiz, of Mexico, won the Latin America Amateur Championship on Sunday and has earned a spot in this year's Masters Tournament field.

LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic — Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz refused to let a third chance at the Masters Tournament slip away from him Sunday in the Latin American Amateur Championship.

A runner-up each of the past two years, Ortiz was two shots behind when he hit 3-wood to 20 feet for eagle to get back in the game, and then he closed with back-to-back birdies for a 6-under-par 66 and a two-shot victory over Luis Gagne of Costa Rica.

Ortiz finished at 14-under 274.

The victory not only gets him into the Masters, he is exempt into the final stage of qualifying for the U.S. Open and the British Open, and he is also exempt for the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur.

Ortiz lost in a three-man playoff two years ago, and last year he couldn't hold off Joaquin Niemann, closing with 63.

This one looked as though it might get away from him, too, after Gagne went out in 32 on the Teeth of the Dog course at Casa de Campo, and then birdied the 11th hole to take a two-shot lead.

"Yeah, for sure, on No. 9, it felt like a déjà vu for sure. He was playing exceptionally," said Ortiz, who made a lengthy putt to save par at No. 9. "I think on No. 9, walking from No. 10 tee, I told myself, this was my time. I mean, I trusted myself. I kept telling myself that I'm the best player and that nobody wanted it as bad as I did, and just gladly I came out on top."

Ortiz answered with his 3-wood into the par-5 12th and a wedge from the rough to 3 feet for birdie on the next hole.

"As soon as I hit the putt I knew it was going in," Ortiz said of his eagle putt at the par-5 12th.

They were tied with two holes to play when Gagne blinked first. Trying to play it safe on the 295-yard 17th hole along the ocean, his tee shot went into a bunker, and he blasted that out over the green, failing to get up-and-down. Ortiz, playing in the final group behind him, laid up off the tee and hit a wedge that landed short of the hole and rolled out to a few inches away for a birdie.

That became a two-shot swing.

Gagne missed a long eagle attempt on the par-5 18th. Ortiz easily reached the green and two-putted from 25 feet for birdie.

"I hit a club I thought wouldn't get in the bunker," Gagne said about the 17th. "I thought I was making the smart play. As you know, a 90-yard bunker shot, downwind, isn't the easiest. ... I'm extremely disappointed in the way I finished. Hypothetically, it could have cost me a ticket to the Masters. It will take me a while to get over this."

Ortiz will become the first player from Mexico to play in the Masters since Victor Regalado, who played in 1975 and 1979.

"It feels amazing. For us Mexicans, we've been waiting for this a long time," Ortiz said. "It will be an honor to see the Mexican flag at the Masters. Hopefully, I'll do well and represent them well."

Gagne plays college golf at LSU. Ortiz finished up a four-year career at Arkansas last year. His older brother, Carlos, plays on the PGA Tour. Unless Carlos Ortiz wins a PGA Tour event between now and April, his first trip to Augusta National Golf Club will be to watch his little brother.

The younger Ortiz said he had a chance to attend a practice round at the Masters a couple of years ago, but declined.

"The first time I wanted to step into Augusta it was because I knew I was going to play there," he said. "Kind of like I had that in the back of my mind, but of course, if somebody said, hey, I'll take you to Augusta for the week, of course, I wouldn't say no, right. But not for just one day."